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New York City to end vaccine mandates for performers and athletes

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, number 11, is shown playing March 15, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.
Phelan M. Ebenhack
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, number 11, is shown playing March 15, 2022, in Orlando, Fla.

NEW YORK (AP) — New York city's mayor will announce Thursday that he's exempting athletes and performers from the city's vaccine mandate for private workers.

The move will allow Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, who refused to be vaccinated for COVID-19, to play home games, and let unvaccinated baseball players take the field when the Major League Baseball season begins.

According to a person familiar with the upcoming announcement who was not authorized to discuss it publicly, Mayor Eric Adams will make the announcement Thursday morning. It will be effective immediately.

The city's sweeping vaccine mandate for workers will still apply to people with other types of jobs, including government employees.

Eric Adams has recently lifted other COVID-19 restrictions

Adams had said he thought the vaccine rule was unfair when it came to athletes and performers because a loophole in the measure, imposed under his predecessor Bill de Blasio, allowed visiting players and performers who don't work in New York to still play or perform, even if they are unvaccinated.

Adams has been rolling back vaccine mandates and other coronavirus restrictions, including on Tuesday when he said masks could become optional for children under 5 starting April 4.

Mask mandates for older children have already been removed, as well as rules requiring people to show proof of vaccination to dine in a restaurant, work out at a gym, attend a show, or go to an indoor sporting event.

What could this mean for Kyrie Irving?

Irving, who turned 30 Wednesday, had been among the most high-profile people impacted. He was able to re-join the team in January but only when they played away games.

Irving and Nets coach Steve Nash said they didn't want to comment until after an official announcement. But that didn't stop fans and analysts from giving their thoughts, as Irving was one of Twitter's top trending topics Wednesday night.

"FULL TIME KYRIE!!! #SCARYHOURS," tweeted retired Boston Celtics champion and ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins.

"Finally. Good for @KyrieIrving for standing his ground, especially with the ridiculous hypocritical rule that allowed unvaccinated visiting players to play," said ESPN SportsCenter host Sage Steele. "Now, let's extend it to everyone in NYC, not just athletes & performers. Let the silliness end."

Another Twitter user said, " I don't care what Kyrie Irving does for the rest of his career, choosing to stand up for medical autonomy in the face of tremendous public + private pressure, not to mention lost income, will be his most impressive and enduring accomplishment."

MLB players could be affected by the change

This month, concerns had been raised that the rule would also impact Major League Baseball.

Yankees star Aaron Judge refused to directly answer a question about his vaccine status earlier this month, leading to speculation that another New York team would be hobbled by a player's refusal to get inoculated.

When asked Wednesday about a possible vaccine exemption, Judge said he was "happy Kyrie can play some home games."

"If the mandate is not there, it's good for Kyrie," Judge told The Associated Press during spring training in Tampa, Florida, adding he "wasn't too worried" about the mandate's effect on the Yankees.

The Yankees, who open their season at home against the Boston Red Sox on April 7, said earlier this month that the team president was "working with city hall and all other appropriate officials on this matter." The Yankees declined to comment Wednesday.

What about everybody else?

De Blasio made vaccination mandatory as a workplace safety rule last year, before leaving office.

All employers are supposed to bar unvaccinated workers from being in shared workplaces.

The city suspended numerous public employees for refusing to get vaccinated, including public servants like firefighters and sanitation workers.

"#VaccinesWork ... unless you're rich and powerful, in which case, #LobbyingWorks," tweeted Dr. Jay Varma, a former adviser to de Blasio.

The creation of special exemptions for athletes or entertainers could potentially lead to court challenges arguing the city isn't applying the law evenly.

NPR reporter Ayana Archie and AP freelance writer Mark Didtler in contributed to this report.

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